Federal whistleblowers scored a big victory with a new law that explicitly targets managers who retaliate against them.
President Donald Trump signed the law--unanimously approved by the House and Senate--late last month, TheWashingtonPost reports. It lays out disciplinary actions for managers/supervisors who exact retribution against workers who expose wrongdoing.
The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 is named for a Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist and whistleblower who committed suicide in 2009 on the day he was fired. Kirkpatrick worked at Tomah VA Medical Center in Tomah, Wisconsin, when he spoke out about overmedicating patients at that facility.
“Chris Kirkpatrick did the right and honorable thing when he raised concerns about the over-prescription of opioids to veterans,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said after the bill he sponsored was signed. “Today we are sending a strong message that federal whistleblowers like Chris deserve protection, and attempts to intimidate or silence whistleblowers are unlawful.”
Federal employees who became whistleblowers often say they are “humiliated, marginalized, ostracized, given additional bogus assignments,” says Valerie Riviello, a whistleblower who retired from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany, N.Y.
But for managers who retaliate against whistleblowers, it is “almost unheard of” for them to be disciplined, says Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project (GAP). His organization helps whistleblowers. It is “almost routine that [managers] will be rewarded with a bonus or promotion,” he said.
Brad Moss, an attorney who represents members of the U.S. intelligence community involved in lawsuits over whistleblower retaliation allegations, said the huge bipartisan support “is a welcome step in the right direction,” UPIreports.
“After a lengthy hiatus, Congress and the Executive Branch have over the past decade finally begun enacting incremental reforms to improve the whistleblower process that had failed so many in the past,” said Moss, who is from the law offices of Mark Zaid in Washington, D.C. “This new law is yet another piece of that complicated puzzle, and the creation of a process for truly penalizing those who retaliate against whistleblowers is long overdue.”
But the law “unfortunately doesn’t address the larger, systemic issues that continue to plague the whistleblower process,” Moss told UPI. “For example, it doesn’t address the exclusion of much of the Intelligence Community from access to due process beyond the agency administrative processes, leaving individuals’ careers subject to the whims of officials with an otherwise-legitimate interest in minimizing damage to the agency,” he said.
Reaction from federal whistleblowers is mixed, according to an article from TheWashingtonPost. Germaine Clarno, a VA whistleblower, doesn’t believe retaliation will go down due to the new law. Clarno noted that “[we] already have laws, conducted congressional hearings, supervisor trainings, investigations, media exposure, and there is still an epidemic of retaliation with no signs of letting up.”
But Gayle Petersen, a whistleblower with the Agriculture Department, expressed hope. If management notifies “staff members of the new bill and send the message that whistleblower retaliation is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated and follow this up with swift corrective action as an example of their seriousness then yes there will be change,” Petersen said.